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Not Playing a Round

It's mostly business for them because they seldom get time to venture out with their clubs

August 14, 2003|PETER YOON | Times Staff Writer

Mike Buroza arrives at Los Verdes Golf Club each day about 5:30 a.m.

It's one of the busiest public golf courses in the country, so, like everyone else going there, Buroza must get there early.

The difference is, Buroza arrives without clubs.

He is the head professional at Los Verdes, and that means he won't have time to play golf.

From his early-morning arrival until his departure well after sunset, Buroza's equipment will include pencils, a calculator, a video camera, a golf cart and the telephone.

He will work in the pro shop taking tee times, giving lessons at the driving range, talking to golfers about the game and performing other duties to keep the course running smoothly.

Buroza is one of more than 25,000 PGA professionals nationwide who are celebrated this week during the PGA Championship. The fourth major championship of the year is their tournament. It is put on by the PGA of America, the governing body of PGA professionals, to honor those who have dedicated their lives to teaching and promoting golf.

It is a cruel irony, though, that a tournament is used as a tribute to club professionals. Many spend their careers in and around the game of golf, but most have little time to play.

"The biggest misconception about PGA pros is that we play on the tour or that we play golf all the time," Buroza said. "Playing golf is pretty far down the list."

There is a big difference between a PGA professional and a PGA Tour player. A PGA Tour player makes a living playing golf. A PGA professional makes a living working in the golf business.

PGA Tour players play tournaments; PGA professionals organize tournaments. PGA Tour players wake up early to hit balls at the driving range; PGA professionals wake up early to make sure there are balls at the range.

"I wear a different hat every 10 to 30 minutes," said Scott Wilson, head professional at the PGA of Southern California Golf Club in Calimesa.

"I'll start a men's club tournament, give a lesson, do some staff scheduling, balance the budget, do some payroll, order merchandise for the pro shop then head back out to the tournament to give a ruling. I do just about everything around here except play golf."

It used to be different.

Tom Barber, the head pro at Griffith Park, became a PGA professional because he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Jerry, the 1961 PGA Championship winner. Back then, PGA professionals played tournament golf to supplement their income. Jerry, the head pro at Wilshire Country Club from 1954 to '63, made $11,000 for winning the PGA Championship. The winner this year will make more than $1 million.

"The business has changed," Tom Barber said. "I always wanted to play professionally, but the challenges of my job don't give me the time to play enough to stay at the competitive ability. In the days of my father, you had to do both in this business. Now it's one or the other. Basically, I run a retail store. It's a 24-7, 365-type of job."

The change began soon after Jerry Barber won the PGA Championship. That was the heyday of Arnold Palmer, who brought golf to the masses. On tour, purses grew. In 1965, Dave Marr got $25,000 for winning the PGA. Six years later, Jack Nicklaus took home $40,000 -- nearly four times what Barber had won only 10 years earlier.

With purses like that, playing golf for a living became a viable career option. Tournament players separated from the club pros and, in 1968, formed the PGA Tour -- a division of the PGA of America for professionals who earned a living playing golf.

The PGA of America remained strong and today is the world's largest working sports organization. Its mission is to promote the enjoyment of the game and foster its growth. PGA members have undergone extensive training on teaching, pro-shop management, club fitting, turf management, rules and tournament operations.

Many PGA professionals started out with dreams of playing for a living but gave them up, some because they weren't good enough, others because they didn't enjoy the touring lifestyle or for any number of reasons.

Becoming a PGA professional allowed them to stay in the game.

"I love the game; I have a real passion for it," said Roger Gunn, director of instruction at Tierra Rejada Golf Club and a former mini-tour player.

"But I needed something a lot more stable than the life of a tour player. I'm lucky to have the PGA and be able to stay in the game. It's kind of a dream scenario."

The roles of PGA professionals have become more specialized. One PGA professional may focus on teaching while another leans more toward making a profit for the pro shop.

"The traditional professionals were jacks of all trades," said Dave Carollo, the head professional at Glendora Country Club and president of the Southern California PGA. "Now you've got guys who are full-time teachers or tournament managers or concession operators."

The duties depend on the club job. At busy public facilities, Buroza and Barber have worries much different from Carollo's.

Some club pros spend most of their time teaching and aren't involved much with the daily operation of the course. At the PGA club, Wilson said, he spends about 90% of his days in his office.

At Riviera Country Club, where expectations run high, Todd Yoshitake spends most of his days making sure the club lives up to its reputation as one of the best courses in the world.

"This is a total-service industry," Yoshitake said. "People have high expectations about Riviera. My job is to see that we exceed what people expect. At this club, I'm an administrator. I manage people to make sure things are done right."

All of which leaves little time for playing golf. The running joke among PGA professionals is that PGA stands for "Put Golf clubs Away."

"I heard it before I got into this business," Wilson said. "If you want to play a lot of golf, don't get into the golf business."

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